COLUMN: DIY politics and ethics in film

Whenever rules or guidelines are proposed for any art form, the tendency is to shudder and back away.

Media as a whole is contingent upon these rules.

Gatekeepers, such as curators, pick those who are allowed into distribution and wider viewership while maintaining the line about who is in and who is out based on class, race, sexuality and their relation to such identities.

In fine art, viewers often feel these rules are less strict.

Somehow minorities have broken through the ranks of elitism in more ‘fluid’ spaces.

In regards to film festivals, one film critic, Mark Cousins, proposed film festivals should be joyful refuges for artists in his article “Film Festival Form: A Manifesto.”

He believes festivals are too stagnant and rigid. They should become their own hegemonies just like Hollywood.

Cousins, however, doesn’t seem to take into account there are festivals that already are trying to have fresh finds and break hegemonies.

These ‘fresher’ festivals just fail to expand to global levels like Cannes or Sundance have.

That’s the nature of DIY and freshness, once it is homogenized into something larger it is no longer fresh.

Sometimes, critics herald films they feel are fresh or DIY that have made it to these larger festivals such as the film “Tangerine.”

“Tangerine” was praised for being filmed on an iPhone, toted as a film anyone could have the resources to make.

However, this is simply not true. The director used expensive lenses and adaptor and used funds for music. This is not quite the DIY harbinger that has been marketed.

I want to believe in the common man’s ability, and I do, but it’s not always found on such grand scales like festival favorite “Tangerine.”

The film about two trans women of color directed by a white man has its own curiosities surrounding authorship and voice in the DIY age.

Festivals that have specific art are quickly developed, sold and bought as niche.

Festivals open to “what else is out there” often fail to get as much traction or are forced into static boxes.

“Tangerine” is a film that seems to be ‘fresh’ and 
festivals can herald as so, but is still well within the hegemony of money and power.

MIX NYC, a queer experimental film festival, seems first glance to be a festival that Cousins would herald.

It brings DIY films and has ‘fresh finds.’ However, it has its own very specific aesthetic that creates its own problems.

There’s an essential MIX film and a ‘look’ they seek to achieve and perpetuate.

When one rages against a machine, one is still creating a new machine to do so.

It is a tricky place to be, but it has been overcome by finding different exhibition spaces, creating space for films in microcinemas or bars. These DIY ethical stances and physical spaces create literal and metaphysical room.

It is important to support these spaces, but I wonder if these DIY spaces maintain integrity if they grow larger. Film critic Cousins seems to want freshness on large scales.

Cousins’ view is poetic and even beautiful, but I’m skeptical of how such spaces would exist on a global scale.

What is popular is almost always subject to gatekeepers and as such, these global spaces do not have room for freshness or out of the box works.

This is not to say that people cannot infiltrate with their own vision and subvert hegemonies from within.

Auteurs like Todd Haynes or Apichatpong Weerasethakul have found ways to exist in and also challenge spaces like Cannes and Sundance through subverting genre and expectations.

Both, perhaps not coincidentally, identify as queer. It is an interesting space to consider and one that perhaps is always forced to be in flux, the opposite of what film festivals exist to do.

Other films more directly challenge the hegemony from the outside but sit uncomfortably in DIY and nontraditional spaces, such as video art and experimental film.

Both tactics seek to subvert and challenge art film hegemonies in fascinating and exciting ways.

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